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A Matter of Urgent Public Importance - poor management of human resources in Manitoba's health care system.

On Wednesday October 3, I raised a Matter of Urgent Public Importance in the Manitoba Legislature over concerns about the poor management of human resources in our health care system in our province. My remarks are below:


Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I rise on a matter of urgent public importance. I move, seconded by the MLA for Burrows, that under rule 38(1), the ordinary business of the House be set aside to discuss a matter of urgent public importance, namely the need for urgent attention to the state of human resource management in Manitoba's health-care system, which is putting the health of patients and the health of nurses at risk.
Madam Speaker: Before recognizing the honourable member for River Heights, I should remind all members that under rule 33(2), the mover of a motion on a matter of urgent public importance and one member from the other recognized parties in the House are allowed not more than 10 minutes to explain the urgency of debating the matter immediately.
      As stated in Beauchesne's, citation 390, urgency in this context means the urgency of immediate debate, not of the subject matter, of the motion. In their remarks, members should focus exclusively on whether or not there is urgency of debate and whether or not the ordinary opportunities for debate will enable the House to consider the matter early enough to ensure that the public interest will not suffer.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, this is the first opportunity to bring this issue forward because the severity and the acuteness of the problems with human resource management in our health-care system have come forward dramatically over the course of the summer since we were last sitting in June.
      As to the state of the problem, I will refer to a letter from St. Boniface and ICU nurses, written August 18th. The nurses say: "The nurses of the NICU at St. Boniface are gravely concerned with the state of staffing in our unit since the new rotations became effective in January, 2018. We currently have 13 open codes with four more nurses leaving by the beginning of September. This means that we are short one to four nurses per shift. Nurses are expected to stay for overtime or pick up extra shifts on days off to help fill these holes. We have done so because of our dedication to our fragile and vulnerable patients and to our co-workers. However, this cannot continue. People are working up to 16‑hour shifts, either voluntarily or through mandating, and then returning to work on three or four hours of sleep. This is happening multiple times in our stretches.
      The letter continues, mentioning that nurses are exhausted, mentioning that, as well as the nursing shortage, "we also have two vacant unit clerk positions which are often unfilled," mentioning that "because nothing has changed to address our working conditions over the last seven months, but rather has worsened, we feel as though our challenges to provide safe patient care is not a priority for   St.   Boniface Hospital. It makes us feel unsupported  and minimized. The added pressure and responsibility that senior nurses experience when they are left to deal with inadequate staffing on their own is frustrating and very unfair as it takes us away from providing patient care."
      The nurses continue: "It has reached the point where parents are staying overnight in the NICU because they are fearful about the quality of care their baby will receive from exhausted nurses staying for prolonged shifts. We are very concerned that a terrible, serious incident may occur as a result of the concerns noted above."
      The nurses say that in 2017 a total of 33 nurses were mandated to work an extra shift for the year. So far in 2018–and this is in the NICU alone–187 nurses have been mandated on top of the hundreds of voluntary overtime shifts the nurses have also covered. "These numbers increase every shift of every day."
      The problem is much broader than just the NICU at St. Boniface. For all of St. Boniface Hospital, Darlene Jackson of the Manitoba Nurses' Union says hospital nurses reported 1,528 mandatory overtime shifts between January 1 and September 30 of this year, with 50 per cent of those shifts in the women and child program, which includes the NICU. Indeed, we have reports from elsewhere in the province and in other facilities like the Lions Prairie Manor in Portage la Prairie where there have also been major problems with human resource management, and there was indeed an investigation by the PPCO into this.
      There have been varied excuses given for the poor human resources management in Manitoba's health-care system, including increased numbers of patients. Surely hospitals and other health-care facilities should be managed so that they can deal with the patient load that occurs, not the patient load that occurred in the past.
      There have been solutions proposed, including the recommendation that nurses use the employment assistant plan. Of course, the employment assistant plan does nothing to solve the lack of staffing, the constant demands for overtime and the stress and sleep deprivation nurses continue to endure and the constant mandating of nurses to work even when they have previous commitments with friends, families or university classes or other ones.
       Last night at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba the Minister of Health dismissed the problems by saying that overtime overall has been reduced. The Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living (Mr. Friesen) completely missed the point that there are too many places in our health-care system where human resources are being managed so poorly that it is causing such adverse effects as I have noted on nursing and their health and is threatening the well-being of patients.
      I bring this forward because it is urgent that we have this addressed and we have a debate here, because the last thing we need is a death in the pediatric NICU or harm coming to patients who should be getting top-quality care. There can be no doubt that the acuity and the importance of this issue is very, very high, and that a full debate is needed this afternoon to consider the state of human resource management in Manitoba's health-care system.
      Madam Speaker, my case is made, I believe, and I hope all other parties will support having a debate on this critically important subject which is urgent now in this Legislature.
      Thank you, Madam Speaker. Merci. Miigwech.

Sadly, in spite of the importance of this issue, the Conservative government refused to support having the debate.  


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